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When we learn something new it is important to note progress. It keeps our confidence up, and reinforces that we are doing the right thing. The most common sabotage to our mindfulness progress is the Inner Critic in our head, or what I call The Judge. It criticizes everything, and rarely has a complimentary thing to say. This is the exact opposite of the confidence building that is needed. There are ways to counter this Inner Judge.
The judge will say you are not doing enough. It will say that what you did do won’t count or it won’t help or it wasn’t enough. It will lie to no end. It will note all the times you didn’t practice or slipped up. It will not mention the things you did well, or that you are making progress. That Judge is anything but fair and just. It’s time to call him on it.
Mindfully and Actively Counter the Judge’s Expectations
In learning anything like an instrument it will be a while before you can play a song all the way through. In the beginning you know you are not going for perfection and this helps. In the beginning you go for practice and lessons, and to get better. You know that in learning there will be lots of mistakes. You can even see every slip up is a chance to learn. When playing the guitar and you miss a note, you notice, you see what you did, and you have a chance to slow down, focus your attention and consciously move your finger to the correct strings. You take your time and get it right. You are building a neural pathway from what your mind imagines to making your fingers move a new way. Then you practice consciously moving that way over and over again until seeing the note on the page unconsciously makes your finger move. We learn to master something through incessant repetition. In reality you are not learning to play a song perfectly, but rather consciously make small finger movements until they are automatic. The practice of these small actions over time will build into playing a song. The Judge doesn’t seem to have much of a clue about this, or patience for it. It just wants the final product, but that isn’t how we get there. This is important to keep in mind so you can manage expectations and stay on the task of practice.
In real learning you allow yourself time for this conscious to unconscious integration. Allow yourself the same time for learning in your mindfulness practice. In the beginning of playing music you play more songs with mistakes than correctly. In the beginning of the mindfulness practice allow your self the same latitude for missteps.
Somehow, because the work takes place in your head and emotions the Judge assumes that results should be instantaneous. This is a false belief of your Judge and does not allow for space and time of mistakes while learning. Therefore you will have to consciously make allowance for mistakes, learning, and time for integration.
The judge often has a ridiculous expectation of success. It expects that if you sit down to meditate that you will have some blissful experience in the first week or month. It expects that new neural pathways will be built in the first week of any new practice. The Inner Critic assumes that once you decide to have more positive thoughts that you “should” never have a negative one. In short, the inner Judge is kind of crazy, or stupid, or both. I’m letting you know that its expectations are ridiculous. You can learn more about these false beliefs and become more skeptical of them by doing an inventory of the thoughts of the Judge. This process is explained in the Self Mastery program.
One way to give your judge a craziness check is to consider a friend working on the same mindfulness, behavior, or emotional stuff you are working on. Then assume that they were having the same kind challenges and are progress as you. Would you say out loud to them the same things your inner Judge says to you? How would it go over? Most people I ask respond with, “hell no, that would be mean.” They would never talk to someone else the same way the voice in their head talks to them. That’s how you know it is crazy or at least mean. It is not the kind of voice you want in charge of you or anyone else.
If you begin to put the sabotaging comments of the Judge in check by being skeptical progress will be easier. If you are having difficulty becoming the observer of the Judge you can listen to this podcast for some help. You won’t feel like a failure every time the judge makes a comment about lack of progress. Instead you will be noticing how ridiculous the Inner Judge is. This is part of active mindfulness.
The second step in how to stay mindful is to positively reinforce your progress.
Take a post it note, or better yet, buy a pack of 3×5 cards. On a 3X5 card put down the couple practices you are working on. These can be long morning meditations, or small practices you build into your day during a commute, conversation, meetings, or exercise. List them along the left hand side. To the right put a number of boxes so you can check off when you complete a practice. Put in a number of boxes that you would finish in 2-4 days for each exercise.
If you aren’t sure what practices to combine, the Self Mastery course has many that work together. You can put in more or fewer exercises. In the beginning I suggest keeping it to 5 or less.
It should look something like this:
|5 min of Gratitude||X||X|
|Relaxing Breath to Release Emotions||X|
|Journal for 10 min with neutral perspective||X|
|Be skeptical of Inner Judge’s Expectation||X||X||X|
|Practice listening in Conversation|
Keep this card in your pocket during the day as a reminder to practice these mindfulness exercises. As you finish one during the day, check it off as you see above. It is your goal to fill out the card. You can put a different number of boxes by different exercises depending on how often you expect to do them. In either case, don’t give your self a deadline. The Judge will create a criticism if you don’t finish on time. Don’t give him the chance. It is your goal to practice. Don’t create a made up a race against time.
Mindfulness is an intangible practice and process. Therefore, progress is difficult to track and acknowledge. If you play guitar, you know the new chords you learned or the new songs you can now play. There is a sense of accomplishment that positively reinforces progress and practice. In mindfulness there isn’t always a tangible form of measuring progress so with this card you are creating one. This will help reinforce sense of accomplishment that the Judge attempts to interfere with.
When you finish filling out the card, post it in a place you can see it. You might tape it to your bathroom mirror, or on your fridge. On it is a clear representation of the 15 or 25 steps you took and made progress. Your Inner Critic might have comments about what you didn’t do, but you will have a hard copy documentation of what you did do. When your mirror or fridge gets full of cards, you take the older ones down and begin to build a stack, and post the recent ones on the fridge and mirror.
Your Judge won’t remember the work you have done. It is forgetful. So you want a tangible reminder of the work you have done. When the Inner Critic wants to berate you for doing a lousy job on your inner work, you can look at your cards on your wall, fridge, or mirror, and use the documentation you collected to help you be more skeptical of the Judge.
Some information you may want to add to the card is the date. When you finish a card put the date in one of the corners.
As you practice, you will come upon insights and realizations. Use the back of the card to write down what you discover about your self, thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and the ego characters that make up the voices in your head. The backs of the cards will be some quick notes of discoveries. Writing down these realizations will help reinforce them in your memory and consciousness. 3X5 cards are more practical to carry than a journal, and you can make the notes when you make the discovery. If you wait until the end of the day when you are home, you might have forgotten by then. Once you get home, you can take the notes from the back and transcribe them to your journal, and elaborate on the details if you wish.
Periodically review the realizations written on the back of your cards. You will have a catalog of insights to help you. In a way you will be reading a book you wrote with all the helpful reminders you need to combat your false beliefs and ego. Each time you go back and read the back of those cards you are following the consciousness bread crumb you left for your self. You are giving your self the kind of consciousness you want to draw upon and cultivate. In the process you are also becoming your own teacher of wisdom.
There are as many ways how to be mindful as there are people on the path. Try these two out and see how they work. You are free to adapt and change them in ways that work best for you.
I hope you found this helpful. Now go get your card for today and make our your list.
For practical steps on taking an inventory of beliefs and building mindfulness practices see the free lessons of the Self Mastery Course.